These Oregon cows are artists. The horses, not so much.
It all started in 2007. Whit Deschner was hanging out at his friend's place in Baker City, Oregon when he noticed one of the many salt licks that are set out for local deer and livestock. As usual, the large block of salt and minerals had been licked into a very unique shape, containing whorls, curves, and holes.
"We'd had a couple of beers," Deschner said in an interview with Atlas Obscura. "I kept looking at [the salt block]. I thought, 'You'd give an artist $100,000 for one of them if they blew it up.'"
Deschner wasn't far off base, because today people do pay for the salt lick art. On Saturday, September 16, Baker City hosted the 11th annual Great Salt Lick Contest, during which used salt blocks are displayed, judged, and then auctioned off to raise money for Parkinson's disease research. In fact, over the course of its 11 years, the accidental artwork has raised more than $100,000 in prize money for Oregon Health & Science University.
The competition process is simple. Human patrons provide participating animals with 50-pound blocks of salt, which are easily purchased at the local feed store, Oregon Trail Livestock Supply in Baker City and Richland Feed and Seed, for less than seven dollars. The animal artists -- everything from cows to goats, deer, and more -- then get to work, licking them for hours, which produces the extremely unique designs.
When the contest rolls around, the works are judged in different categories, and the best ones receive cash prizes, which range from $50 to $150. At the lick art auction, they bring even more money. One year the grand prize winner sold for a record $1,800 that went to Parkinson's research.
"The community really gets into it," Deschner said.
Deschner owns a number of the works himself, and has even had some of them cast in bronze to preserve them longer. Throughout the competition's history, he's made a few observations on the different species that participate.
"Goats and deer are more realist. Cows are more impressionist. The horses aren't artistic at all."
The works are judged by a panel. This year's panel was composed of brewers, vintners, and distillers. In the past, Deschner has recruited local clergy, as well as city council members.
"They couldn't agree on anything," he said. "So I had them do the salt lick judging, and they finally agreed."
The contest has become such a beloved Baker City tradition that last year a four-foot-tall bronze replica of a salt lick sculpture was installed in downtown Baker City.
For those that can't make it to Baker City for the contest, Deschner said the Great Salt Lick's Facebook page may soon include a system for online bidding for the beautiful salt block art.
Does your livestock create artistic looking salt licks? Tell us in the comments below!
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